ANGELA ALDERETE works to earn her black belt on Tuesday at Shotokan Karate Academy in Topsham under the instruction of Sensei Nelson Vaughn.

ANGELA ALDERETE works to earn her black belt on Tuesday at Shotokan Karate Academy in Topsham under the instruction of Sensei Nelson Vaughn.


Dressed in her white karate uniform, Angela Alderete held her up her brand-new black belt while fellow students and supporters applauded.

“For mom!” she said.

It’s one of the few times that Alderete, 53, who has an intellectual disability, was emotional. Alderete said her moth- er, who died from cancer, was in Heaven watching her get her belt. Her family, including her 95-yearold father Samuel Alderete, a resident of The Highlands, was able to watch Alderete’s black belt test on Tuesday. He gave her two thumbs up.

Alderete is a client of Independence Association — a nonprofit that supports individuals with intellectual disabilities — which makes sure she gets to the dojo, or training hall, for her weekly karate class.

Lorraine Goodwin of Independence

Association has known Alderete for many years. After watching her get her black belt Tuesday, Goodwin described Alderete as a very determined individual. It doesn’t matter if she’s sick, or if she’s tired after her job cleaning at Spindleworks in Brunswick — Alderete goes to karate.

Alderete said she’s an Army brat and began practicing karate when she was younger living overseas. After a hiatus, she started at the Shotokan Karate Academy in Topsham eight years ago, and has been training regularly ever since. She said she’s done karate a total of 17 years.

It makes her feel great, she said. An athlete, she’s accumulated a lot of recognition over the years competing in Special Olympics.

Karate helps keep her strong, she said, and channeling Popeye, raised an arm and flexed it.

Having earned her black belt, she’s certainly not done with her karate journey.

“I’m staying with it,” she said.

“In the grand scheme of things, the black belt is like graduating from high school,” said Alderete’s instructor, Nelson Vaughn, who teaches a weekly class for special needs adults. “That’s cool. But learning isn’t done at 18.”

In traditional karate, there is no end point. Karate and life are the same, he said. The journey is the destination.

Vaughn’s special needs class is more about fostering a love of karate, and less about technicalities. It’s about joy, Vaughn said.

That joy was on display before Alderete even started the test.

With a load of confidence, Alderete told her friends, family — anyone she met that she was getting her black belt. After Vaughn told her it was time for her examination, Alderete exclaimed, “Now you’re talking!”

With her body straight and arms to her side, Alderete began moving through the positions at Vaughn’s command, one arm held bent at her side, the other stretched outward and a hand clenched in a fist. Then came a kick. Then a punch. And on and on through other moves and stances.

Eye of the Tiger — Alderete’s self-chosen karate name — moved right through the examination unfazed by the flashes of cameras documenting what for her was such a monumental achievement.

Everyone does karate for their own reasons, but ultimately Vaughn said, “you just do it because it’s good stuff.”

After the test, Alderete walked through the dojo’s door with the stiff black belt tied around her waist.

“I’m so excited!” she said.

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